Digital technology and the network revolution are at the heart of what’s creating the potential for a low-impact, less resource-intensive economy. Green and high-tech are allies against mass production and the mountains of deliberately obsolete goods piling up in our landfills, and against the globalist economic model of truck/containership warehouses linking points of production and points of consumption thousands of miles apart. If any single thing reduces the need for fuel, it will be shifting wherever feasible from the movement of material to the movement of information.
A contribution by Kevin Carson, which is a follow up on our previous discussion here.
“Michel Bauwens originally solicited my comment on Greer’s views from the standpoint of a tie-in with Lewis Mumford’s thought. But to the extent that, like Dave Pollard, he sees assorted Peak Everything crises leading to a post-tech future, I feel Greer is best treated as a foil or straight-man for Mumford.
Digital technology and the network revolution are at the heart of what’s creating the potential for a low-impact, less resource-intensive economy. Green and high-tech are allies against mass production and the mountains of deliberately obsolete goods piling up in our landfills, and against the globalist economic model of truck/containership warehouses linking points of production and points of consumption thousands of miles apart.
If any single thing reduces the need for fuel, it will be shifting wherever feasible from the movement of material to the movement of information. Despite all the talk of how big the carbon footprint of server farms is, compare it to the carbon footprint of the low-hanging fruit they could replace: replacing business air travel with teleconferencing, replacing most white-collar commutes with working at home, the sharing of digital designs with relocalized neighborhood manufacturers, etc. If it’s looked at in those terms, then the servers and communications infrastructure are worth their weight in gold, and will (along with freight trains) be given all the rationed fuel they can use even when fossil fuel ouput is at 20% of present levels.
Greer’s point, that the desirability of the Internet does not mean it will survive, might seem to be a telling objection to my views on the significance of telecommuting and teleconferencing. But it misses the point of Mash’s argument quoted above: to the extent that the Internet is a loose network of lots of modular local systems, it’s quite likely that local meshwork systems may survive indefinitely as community “intranets” of sorts. Given that, the capacity of central trunk lines and servers for connecting them are not an all-or-nothing thing but a more-or-less thing. In fact his own example of the Roman courier relays–which survived in modular, local form in the cities–works against him in this regard.
Greer is entirely correct that the “job” as primary vehicle for work is likely to disappear or become drastically reduced in significance. But the rapid evolution of micromanufacturing technology, with networked/flexible manufacturing using affordable general-purpose CNC tools for craft production, is currently driving just such a shift. We’re seeing a reversal of the economic forces that created the “job” two hundred years ago: a shift back from expensive mass-production machinery to individually affordable craft tools.
And I think Greer seriously underestimates the resilience of society. The development of micromanufacturing and decentralized production technology means that a much larger and growing portion of the total prerequisites for meeting our consumption needs can be produced locally. Projects like Factor e Farm are in the process of expanding the technologies available for continuing this shift even more rapidly. And the larger the share of the prerequisites for production that are modular and scalable and locally reproducible, the smaller the share of the prerequisites for production will remain as weak links. Arguably, the smaller the number of weak links, the more plausible it is that the market will shift dwindling resources to maintaining these weak links.
The significant thing about the slow collapse of the Western Roman empire in my opinion is that the component parts of production technology that were modular and scalable to the village or town economy survived. It was emergent or wholistic relationships between these components that collapsed. And we’re in the middle of a revolutionary shift toward modularity and scalability in share of our total prerequisites for production unequalled since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — and amounting in many ways to a reversal of the increasing brittleness entailed in mass-production society, on the same scale as the original increase.
The more energy resources are freed up by market pressures toward relocalization and shortening of supply-distribution chains, where it is possible to do so, the more resources will be freed up for shifting to redundant cushioning mechanisms for the reduced number of weak links. “